Shock Plauen closure
I was particularly surprised this morning to read the press release from MAN announcing that it was ending Neoplan production at Plauen, the last of the former Neoplan plants to remain open and, I am told, the smallest factory within the Volkswagen group
Production of the Starliner as well as the Cityliner and Jetliner models will be transferred to the Ankara plant in Turkey that already builds the Tourliner by the end of March 2015.
It was the more surprising to me because I was there with Dave Parry as recently as March and there was no hint that such a move was on the cards, indeed they were busily completing a major investment programme that included the installation of extensive new paint facilities.
You can understand the logic. Ankara is underutilised, it has a cataphoretic dip corrosion protection facility on site (Plauen had to send its products elsewhere to be dipped), and there are no doubt economies of scale to be won from focussing on one site, but in as far as it still was seen as such, many operators will view it as the end of Neoplan as a distinct entity.
It raises a few interesting questions. Firstly, will purchasers of top of the range coaches such as the Starliner be prepared to pay the premium they are currently paying for a coach that is built in Germany if it is now to be built in Turkey.
Secondly, will MAN have the capability to build double deck in future? Plauen was the last European plant in the MAN group with the capacity to take double deckers such as Berlin city buses, a tender for which is currently out. Then there is the Skyliner double deck coach, production of which has already been interrupted once with the closure of the Viseon plant. It was widely expected that this would be manufactured in Plauen but this is no longer an option, so will this transfer to Ankara too, or will it be dropped?
It is a sad day for the very skilled workforce in Plauen and another sign of just how competitive the European coach market is.
By Stuart Jones